A joke made by David Letterman at Dr Pepper's expense ended up costing CBS a 30- second spot on last week's Super Bowl, sources said. The "Hudson Riverdance" spot for Diet Dr Pepper that ran in the fourth quarter was payback for Letterman's crack.
Sources said that Dr Pepper got the spot—normally worth at least $1.8 million and as much as $2.5 million—at a steep discount. Others said that the soda marketer got the time gratis. Either way, the episode raises serious questions about the clout of certain advertisers, as well as the separation of advertising and programming.
"Unprecedented" is how one executive de scribed the situation of a wounded advertiser being placated with a makegood in broadcast.
"Did General Mo tors get a makegood when NBC staged phony explosions of their trucks?" asked one national broadcast buyer, adding, "Maybe in a marketplace like this that's so soft, [a seller] might do it to show goodwill, but they'd want to keep it quiet and not establish a precedent."
Added an ad consultant: "I haven't heard of this being done, but it would certainly give advertisers [veto power over] programming . . . If you don't stop there, where does it end?"
Nevertheless, there could be a valid claim for advertiser redress if the advertiser's business has been adversely affected by an offensive reference made during a show, said one media consultant.
"In that instance, a valid case could be made," he said. "If the advertiser was big enough, yeah, a makegood is the cheapest way to get out of it. But if a client pays for an ad on the Howard Stern show and blows a cork over some outrageous thing said on the program, they wouldn't get [a make-good or any other ad solution] because that show is a known exposure."
One media director noted that "advertisers have checking services that will look at programming and identify problems," and suggested that in instances like Dave vs. Dr Pepper, "Maybe the client should reconsider what they're asking the checking service to look for."
The dustup began several months ago when Letterman made a disparaging remark about Dr Pepper; one source said he likened the soft drink to "sewer water." The brand's tagline is, "It makes the world taste better."
John Clarke, chief advertising officer at Dr Pepper/Seven Up, caught wind of the Letterman remark and complained to CBS, sources said. The network, in turn—loathe to risk setting off Letterman's ire but needing to assuage a major advertiser's hurt feelings—decided to offer a makegood during the last quarter of Super Bowl XXXV, according to sources.
Officials at Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper/Seven Up, a subsidiary of Cadbury Schweppes plc, refused to comment.
CBS executives disputed that the appearance of a Diet Dr Pepper spot during the Super Bowl was connected to Letterman's jest. But one executive said, "We did assure Dr Pepper that the episode containing the Letterman remarks would not air in rerun."
Explaining Dr Pepper's last- minute appearance in the big game, the executive added, "We had a few Super Bowl spots left and we sold it to them at a fair price."
Young & Rubicam, New York, created the TV spot, titled "Hudson Riverdance," which features a stage performance of several barrel-chested men in kilts and workboots dancing to the strains of Celtic music, recalling the popular "Lord of the Dance" Broadway show.
Media planning and buying duties for Dr Pepper are handled by The Media Edge, here. Both The Media Edge and Y&R de clined comment.
This isn't the first time the soda com pany has butted heads with a network. And, coincidentally, a prior tangle involving Dr. Pepper advertising also revolved around the Super Bowl.
In late 1999, Dr Pepper/7Up bought time on Super Bowl XXXIV for 7Up. The client wanted to air a spot called "T-Shirt," in which comedian Orlando Jones portrayed a new marketing chief wearing a shirt with the words, "Make 7" on the front and "Up Yours" on the back. In the spot, an Asian man with a cell phone appears to be insulted after only seeing the back of the shirt.
ABC Television, which broadcast last year's game, rejected that spot, deeming it inappropriate for a mass audience [Adweek, Dec. 20, 1999]. In its place ran another commercial from the same campaign. —with Jack Feuer and John Consoli